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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Can One Shower on Yom Tov? Yes...

I am (re)posting this with appropriate halachic explanations and sources regarding the permissibility of bathing on a Yom Tov that does not fall on Shabbat. Yom Tov is long enough in the Diaspora, there is no need to be uncomfortable. So now you will be ready for Shavuoth! :-)

Photo Credit: Guan Hua

Is it OK to shower with hot water? Yes one may shower with hot water and there is no problem due to the fact the water may have been heated on Yom Tov. Firstly, one can argue that since the hot water was heated for other purposes, i.e. to wash dishes, it may be used for the secondary purpose of bathing. See the Arukh Hashulchan regarding bathing an infant in heated water. (AH 511.5; Piskei Teshuvot 511.4 Note 29; See Mishnah Beitzah 2:5) Furthermore, one can say that in our day showering is hana't l'chol nefesh, meaning, whether poor or rich, in many if not most places, showering daily or twice daily is quite ubiquitous. It used to be that "washing the entire body is only fitting for those who are pampered." (Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz in his commentary Yachin U'Boaz on Mishnah Beitza 2.5 [22]) But today this is no longer the case. Along these lines, it would be permitted to heat water expressly for the purpose of bathing. The latter is argued at some length by Rav Yitzchak Obadi, who adds that one may even take a bath, because a home bath does not fall under the rabbinic prescriptions that prohibit the use of a public bathhouse.  (Or Yitzchak OH Siman 210)  Similarly, see Rav Ovadiah Yosef, regarding bathing in a private bath on Yom Tov. (Hazon Ovadiah 'Yom Tov' Page 42)

[Note: I presume above that the water is being heated by a standard gas pilot tank. In contrast, Tank-less water systems, which are steadily gaining in popularity, are problematic halachicly.]

Can I wash my hair?  Does it matter if I use shampoo, liquid soap, or regular soap? 
Rambam paskens that a "shampoo" [my anachronistic term] mixture, whose majority ingredients do not cause hair to be removed, may be used to wash the hair. (Rambam Shabbath 22.13; This is the Mishnah Berura's interpretation of Rambam/Shulchan Arukh 326.25; Cf Biur Halacha 326.9 where he is more hesitant.)  Since the function of our shampoo is to wash hair not to detach hair follicles from the scalp, washing one's hair with shampoo is permitted. However, one should take care not to squeeze shampoo out of the hair in order to use the soapy lather on other parts of the body, i.e. beard, arms, etc. 

In regards to the use of a regular soap bar, the issue stands in the tussle of debate. The Rema prohibits animal tallow because when it dissolves there is a problem of Nolad (creating something new). Presumably, this sort of soap could be used to grease a frying pan. However, some reject this argument arguing that Nolad is only relevent by potential liquids (Mashkonim) akin snow and hail (See Be'er Heitev "Sh'nimuach" 326.8), moreover, the custom of Am Yisrael appears to have followed this leniency. (Biur Halacha 326 "Bishar Cheleiv..") In any event, our inedible soap should not be constrained by this argument. (See Rav Nevinszal in 'B'Yitzchak Yikareh' on  326.10 "B'borith Shelanu"; See also Biur Halachah [ibid])

Lastly, while the MB raises the problem of Mimachek and Mamreach--smoothing or smearing solid substance (326.30), others debate this as well, concluding that there is no problem whatsoever with hard soap. (See Or Yitzchak 174; Piskei Teshuvoth 326.8) As a matter of psak, I don't think there is a problem with hard soap, but I would recommend that in general one should not depart from one's usual minhag.

Can I brush and comb my hair afterwards? 
If necessary, one can comb hair for aesthetic purposes only. (Or Yitzchak OH 137)  Combing hair to remove loose or damaged hair is forbidden. (Cf Yalkuth Yosef 303.13)

Can I brush my teeth?  Yes. As a matter of interest, whatever a person does in this respect, there is an opinion to back it up, with the notable exception of an electric toothbrush. (See Yalkuth Yosef's review of the matter. 326.13)

Can I dry myself off with a towel – I don’t want to go all dripping wet, hair and everything?   Yes you may. (Shulchan Aruch 301.48: MB notes 173,174) It is recommendable to pad dry and use large towels, so as to avoid any possibility that a wet towel might be squeezed. (Cf YY 301.9 gloss 5)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Yom Yerushalayim: A Sermon

            Yom Yerushalayim – Shabbat Behar...5/18/12

Tomorrow we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim.

The day commemorates Israel’s triumph during the Six-Day War, how the I.D.F. pummeled the forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in less than a week;

The day recalls the conquest of the Sinai Desert, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and most exceptionally, the eastern half of Jerusalem;

And the day celebrates the end of a 2000-year-old yearning....For Yom Yerushalayim is the day on which the City of David and Temple Mount finally returned to Jewish Sovereignty.

But if these things are the basis for Yom Yerushalayim, we should consider the following.  The Sinai desert now belongs to Egypt. Gaza is now the playground of Hamas. Numerous West Bank cities are considered autonomous zones governed by the Palestinian Authority. Moreover every major government in the world assumes that if the Israelis and Palestinians ever manage to make peace, the greater part of the West Bank will become Palestinian along with a good portion of Jerusalem as well. Ehud Barak famously offered half of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat.  

Peace may be a pipe-dream, but the question remains: How do we celebrate the expansion of Israel’s borders after spending a good twenty years negotiating its contraction?  How does one celebrate Jerusalem’s unification, when successive Israeli governments have quietly, and not so quietly, considered its division?

Tomorrow morning, thousands of Israelis will gather at the Kotel to recite Hallel. They’ll chant an old blessing that the Cohanim once offered pilgrims. Baruch Haba B’shem Hashem, Bayrachnu-chem M’beth Hashem.Blessed is one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the House of the Lord.” Well, the Kotel is not the House of the Lord. It’s not the courtyard. It is not even the front-yard. The Western Wall is a blockade that shuts Jews out.
As the Moslem Waqf—the trust that guards the site—prohibits Jews from praying there, it is not possible for a cohen to enter and recite the benediction: Bayrachnu-chem-“We bless you from the House of the Lord.”  We can’t go in.

 So what is Yom Yerushaliym?


This morning’s Torah portion begins with a fundamental contradiction. In the opening verses, God says to Moses : When you enter in the land which I give you, כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם [...],
Six years you shall sow your field, six years you shall
prune your vineyard and collect the harvest. But in the seventh year, the land shall have complete rest. There shall be a Sabbath to God.” שבת לה'  (25:2-4)
What this means, explains the Ramban, is that for six years the property is yours—sow what you want, plant as you please—but the seventh year belongs to God.  You are not the owner. (Citing the Sifra; Cf. Rabbenu Bachaye ben Asher; Rashi)
A few verses later, we find a similar idea. If an impoverished farmer sells his ancestral land, the sale is not permanent.   וְהָאָרֶץ, לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתֻת The new buyer can spend 10, 20, 30 years investing every last ounce of sweat and cunning to make the earth bloom....but when the Jubilee comes, the land reverts to the original seller.  Why? Because the land is Mine; and you are strangers and settlers with Me.  כִּי-לִי, הָאָרֶץ:  כִּי-גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם, עִמָּדִי
What kind of ownership is this: Six years it belongs to you, but year seven it is God’s?  How can it be that for 48 years, it can belong to one farmer, then in year fifty, it is suddenly relinquished to another farmer, free of charge! Why do we need these strange laws of constantly shifting ownership?  

A number of commentators take, what we would call, “a Marxist approach” to the Sabbatical laws. A ‘just state’ needs tools to diminish poverty and inequality. Shadal, an Italian commentator, observed that the Jubilee totally “leveled society, humbling the arrogant, and reminding everyone (mostly the rich) that all human-beings are equal.”   הוא חמלה על העניים והוא משווה העשיר והעני ומשפיל גאוות העשיר ומזכיר אותו כי כל בני אדם שווים הם.

For those robbed by fate, Shmitta meant a year without begging for food.  For the truly desperate,  Yovel was something more, it was something longed for—for it promised a fresh start, a return to one’s land. God gave once, and now God gives again. כִּי-לִי, הָאָרֶץ

There is a psychological element as well. It cannot be easy to relinquish one’s property.  Nor is it easy on the conscience to seize land and produce without offering compensation. But if it is the Lord’s hand that gives and the Lord’s hand that takes, then taking isn’t thievery, and giving isn’t being fleeced.  Strangers may come and go; because the earth is the Lord’s; and everyone’s a stranger.  :  כִּי-גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם, עִמָּדִי.

I want to share with you a personal recollection.

I have walked from Jaffa gate to the Kotel many, many times, through the Armenian Quarter, through the Arab shuk. It’s always a pleasure—the alleys, bazaars, the spice-carts and bookshops, yeshivot.... Yet, there is always a moment of bitterness when I glance up and see the golden Dome of the Rock overshadowing the Kotel. My heart does not like what my eyes see. It doesn’t belong.
My first instinct is to remember that ‘It is the Lord who gives and the Lord who takes.’ The Temple Mount is not ours for the moment.

But I think the deepest feeling is much like the farmer who has lost ancestral homestead. Year by year, this farmer watches the other family, the other farmer, that’s moved into his home. In the springtime, he watches from afar and mutters:  “That should be my family harvesting the earth.”  And so he counts the days, the weeks, the years, till the next Jubilee....

The miracle of Yom Yerushalayim is that for a brief moment what was in our hearts and in our hands was in perfect symmetry. The land which we longed for, and which we believe belonged to us, did in fact belong to us....from Dan to Beersheba: Yerushalayim...Hebron...Bet-Lechem...and much more.

But these last few years, every time we pick up a newspaper and read of another withdrawal, negotiation, or disengagement, another piece of earth slips through our fingers.

It’s been 45 years since that first Yom Yerushalayim in June 1967, perhaps another Yovel will come soon... but to celebrate tomorrow, we must pretend it is already here. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Parashat Emor: How to be a Priest

Leviticus is the biblical book rabbis do not want you to read. Saturated with sacrificial minutiae and unsettling descriptions of ritual impurity, its countless sheep and goat offerings seem a more effective salve for insomnia than any woe that pains the heart. After all, what do wave offerings or incense recipes have in common with more substantive things, like wireless Internet or the smell of freshly brewed java in the morning?

Yet the reason why studying Leviticus is so often neglected is not because it seems boring or embarrassingly regressive. Au contraire; study of Leviticus is neglected because its contents are so revolutionary and radical that we fear giving the book anything more than a dutiful glance.

This week’s Torah Portion, Emor, begins with a command to the priestly caste that they avoid all contact with the dead, the exception being close relatives and kin. “And the Lord said unto Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say unto them: There shall none defile himself for the dead among his people” (Leviticus 21:1-2).

The law is in keeping with the general obligation that priests maintain the requisite strictures of purity and holiness. Indeed, the Sons of Aaron have already been warned not to serve in the Tabernacle while drunk (Leviticus 10:9); and they are given further rules prohibiting self-mutilation as well as strict limits about whom they can wed (Leviticus 21:4-7).

Yet if we think about this command a moment longer, it should strike us as being extraordinarily counterintuitive. The priests — Kohanim — are meant to be the spiritual leaders of Israel. Their sacred task is “to distinguish between holy and unholy, between impure and pure and to teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken unto Moses” (Leviticus 10:11). They are in essence the clerical heads — the rabbis — of the people. And yet, here they are expressly forbidden from officiating or even participating in perhaps what is one of the most trying and difficult of lifecycle events — the Jewish funeral. In almost all cases, they are banned from preparing the body for burial or even accompanying the family as they escort the departed to its final resting place. It seems fair to ask why this is so.

The Italian sage, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno (1475-1550), suggested that since it is the task of the priest to give honor and glory to God, it would be a grave violation of his charge to use his station to give honor to the dead (Sforno, Leviticus 21:5.6).

More recently, modern scholars have pointed to the immense chasm between the practices of ancient Egypt and those of Israel. In contrast to Israel, Egypt’s priests made funerary rites and rituals the single most important aspect of their religion. Embalming, mummification and numerous ceremonies accompanied entombing. To appreciate the centrality of Egyptian burial rites, consider that the pyramids were not built for the living, or think back to how Joseph was embalmed and entombed in Egyptian fashion at the end of Genesis.
Against this cultural milieu, Israel’s priests are abjured from making deities of the dead or even excessive mourning. Their task is to worship a living God and to sanctify the day-to-day life of Israel instead (Jacob Milgrom on Leviticus 21:1-5).

Yet, there is something unsatisfying with this answer, primarily because the Kohanim are absent from a whole number of other lifecycle events as well. A few weeks ago, we read the portion of Tazria, which decreed that the birthmother should avoid “entering the sanctuary or touching any holy thing” for some 40 to 80 days after birth (Leviticus 12:1-8). The mother, it seems, is bid to stay well away from the Temple’s priests.

One might expect a Kohen to carry out a circumcision, but here, too, no officiant is mentioned. “On the eighth day, let the flesh of his foreskin be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3). Similarly, for marriage, the Torah makes no mention of any presiding prophet or priest (Deuteronomy 24:1). Remarkably, it was not until the early Middle Ages that an officiating rabbi became obligatory at weddings.

The question, then, is if a priest was not called upon to “hatch them, match them, or dispatch them,” then just who did the presiding over these lifecycle events? The answer, quite simply, was anyone. A father would likely have circumcised his son. A relative would see to proper burial. Learned wedding guests, or the groom, would ensure that the marriage was done according to the Laws of Moses.

Indeed this is but one reason why Leviticus is so radical.

The Italian commentator, Shadal (1800-1865), remarks that this idea is encapsulated by the phrase that Israel be “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6): “Every Israelite is meant to have a personal ‘priest-like’ relationship with God.” Toward that end, perhaps it is time that laity and non-laity alike give Leviticus the attention it deserves.
Shabbat Shalom.